I was walking along Perdido beach in north Florida with my wife and racking up major brownie points. We were collecting shells, holding hands, and discussing whether sapphire or sea foam was the best color choice for our bathroom. I even wrote I heart you in the sand with my toe. My feminine side was raging.
Suddenly, my testosterone was shaken from its coma when I heard frantic splashing 30 yards offshore. A school of fish had broken into a feeding frenzy and my heart started pumping pure red meat and Monday Night Football. My wife paused from scooping up a sand dollar to watch me staring blithely into the Gulf of Mexico with my tongue hanging out of my mouth. She’d seen that look too many times and she knew our cupid fest was over.
“I think sea foam is the best color,” she said sharply, hoping to drag me back.
“Unh huh mm ook,” I replied, wondering if it was a school of bull reds.
“Would you mind if I painted your face too and your new truck?”
“Okie dokie hunny pie…uh, whatever you think is best,” I mumbled as I dialed my buddy Greg’s cell phone.
Thirty minutes later Greg and I were tracking the school. My brownie points had been sucked down a fish hole. I suspected bull redfish but they could have been bonito, mackerel, or blues so we brought every kind of rod, reel, and lure we could jam into a 20-foot boat. When we arrived the fish were still crazed, feeding on thousands of menhaden. I saw a few Spanish mackerel jumping so I tied a red-beaded spoon on my spinning reel. First cast…wham! Second cast…slam!
I switched to my six-weight fly rod with a red and white Clouser minnow. Kabang! Then I went to a top-water popper and kept getting slammed. I considered tying on a paper clip but I was fresh out. All of a sudden a six-foot shark jumped straight up in the air not fifteen feet from the boat and sprayed mackerel everywhere on splashdown. Greg’s used to high-adrenaline action from years in the cockpit of a navy F-14 jet. But the shark still freaked him out, probably because I was doing a drunken tango on the bow in very choppy seas. Moments later the shark slammed into the side of our boat and tail-splashed us with a wall of water.
“He’s just feeding and didn’t see the boat,” I assured my friend. “Believe me, a six-foot shark is no match for fiberglass.”
Greg laughed at me. “I don’t care about the boat,” he said. “I don’t want to have to tell your wife that you got all chewed up.”
“Thanks a lot pizza man,” I snapped.
After retiring from 20-years of active military duty, Greg took a part-time gig delivering pizzas in his maxed out Porsche Carrera. He’s never missed the 30-minute deadline but he spends more on speeding tickets than he makes delivering pies. Typical fighter pilot, it’s all about the rush.
Ignoring me and hoping to attract a big king mackerel’s attention, Greg tossed in a huge top-water, Top Dog, with triple treble hooks. He immediately hooked into a massive skip jack, the undisputed champion of all trash fish. Unfortunately, the damn thing didn’t shake off and I knew from years of experience that the beast would puke baitfish all over my boat. I had to get him off quick.
As I reached down to grab him, the skip jack shook violently and drove a razor sharp treble hook deep into my palm. I yelled, “Gosh darn it.” Or something like that.
The barb and half the hook were completely buried. I had no choice but to push it through. Greg watched, partly with horror and partly with admiration, as I methodically shoved the hook through the fleshy part of my hand. It was a bloody ordeal but then so is fishing. Sweat popped from my brow as the skin stretched under the point of the hook. Finally, it broke through. I sighed in relief and Greg snipped off the barb.
As I wrapped an old fish rag around my hand, Greg began putting the poles away. I tugged on his shirt.
“Hey, what are you doing, man?”
“Uh, we’re going in, right?”
“Going in? Hell no,” I said. “The fish are still biting. Let’s fish!”
I hopped back onto the bow and chucked another lure into the melee. Greg replaced the Top Dog with a barbless stingray grub. We caught Spanish mackerel for two more hours and kept enough for a mid-sized fish fry. After a while my hand began throbbing badly so I soaked it in the healing salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Just as I pulled it out, Mr. Shark appeared out of nowhere. He missed my hand by an inch but bit into the bloody rag that was still tied on. The shark thrashed – I squealed like a little girl, and Greg dove on top of my legs just before I went over the gunnel. Although it seemed like forever, the rag ripped quickly and sharky disappeared into the murk.
As I lay gasping on the floor and gripping my heart, Greg cranked the engine.
“Ready to go in now bubba?” he asked with a sly grin.
“Un huh. Now is good.”
My wife shook her head in disgust when she saw my hand – another dumb fishing injury. But the fresh mackerel fillets jump started my brownie point meter again. The circle of life was complete. I decided not to tell her about the shark.
A few weeks later I was in my local pizza joint when I heard a couple of delivery guys talking about some crazy fisherman who braved a sea of angry sharks even though his hand was impaled with a half dozen fish hooks. Apparently, Greg’s story had bounced around the pizza circuit. And like all fish stories, it got juicier with each telling.
I guess I’m happy that our impromptu fishing trip made legendary status among pizza delivery dudes. I think about that often as I sit and contemplate life, love, and fishing in my sea foam colored bathroom.